10 Ways to Attract and Keep Volunteers


Church growth expert and mentor to over 4000 pastors, the late Jack Whitesell, once told me that for every one active volunteer, the church has the ability to effectively minister to 6-8 people! In other words, the church cannot function or grow without volunteers. But volunteers are often difficult to lead and even more difficult to recruit. This is one of the greatest frustrations and problems pastors face. So, here are 10 ways to attract and keep volunteers. 10 Ways to Attract and Keep Volunteers:

  1. Identify their strengths and find the right fit for them. A volunteers growth potential is unlimited inside their strength zone, however outside of their strengths their growth potential is nil. Therefore, as early as you can try to discover your volunteer recruit's strengths and match them to the appropriate tasks.
  2. Recruit them with a personal ask. Many believe the best way to recruit volunteers is from the pulpit. In actuality, the most proven method of recruiting is still the personal ask. The majority of individuals will say yes when approached personally and are asked by a trusted individual.
  3. Tell them the difference they can make by getting involved. Don't just announce a position vacancy. This by itself is not enough to compel most people to become involved. Everybody wants to know that what they are giving their time to is making a difference. When you recruit someone personally, make sure you tell them how they will be making a difference. Often the best way to explain this is with stories and testimonies.
  4. Resist the urge to be need focused. Don't fill a position with just anybody because there is a need. If you don't have the right person with the right set of skills to fill the position, I have found that it is simply better to not run a program in that area of lack than it is to fill it with the wrong person.
  5. A positive atmosphere from current volunteers will attract others. Your best recruiters are your current volunteers. Everybody is attracted to places where there is fun and excitement. If your current volunteers are having fun, are positive and excited about their current roles, others will automatically be drawn to join your team. Therefore, it is vital to treat your current volunteers right and to make their job as positive an experience as you can and when you do, you will seldom lack recruits.
  6. Effectively skill develop the recruited. One of the best ways to keep your current volunteers happy and engaged is with proper training. There is nothing more frustrating than being asked to do a job and then not being adequately equipped to fulfill your duties. Treat your volunteers as you would your most valuable staff (because they are!) and provide the highest quality of training you possibly can.
  7. Maintain a high motivation of the recruited by celebrating their victories. Catch your volunteers doing something right and then make sure you celebrate them and their achievements! But, I would caution you to reward individuals privately and teams publicly. If you make a habit of rewarding individuals publicly you will create a culture of unhealthy competition among the rest of your volunteers and your efforts to motivated will back fire.
  8. Link new volunteers to their team and supervisors
. Another common frustration among volunteers is problems that arise around communication or the lack of it. It is imperative that your new recruits are clear as to who is their direct overseer. There is nothing more frustrating for a volunteer than receiving direction from multiple sources and being unclear as to which one you are accountable to.
  9. Provide regular supervision of the deployed. A common practice in churches that frustrate volunteers is that when we find a person to fill a vacant position we think our work is done and assume they will take care of everything from here on out. This causes immense frustration for volunteers because like everyone else, they have a desire to know how they are doing and if they are doing what is expected of them.  It is imperative to provide every volunteer with ongoing training, supervision, and feedback.
  10. Creatively reward the productive.
 What gets rewarded gets repeated.
 Volunteers don’t get paid but they don’t work for free either. Find creative ways to reward your volunteers just for the time they willingly give regularly for the cause.

Question: What have you found that helps attract and keep volunteers in your organization?

How to Create a Positive Growth Environment

In one of his latest podcasts, Dr. John C. Maxwell briefly touched on a list he had written years ago on the 10 ways to recognize a healthy growth environment. I found the list inspiring and it reminded me of Paul's challenge to pastors in Ephesians 4 when he instructed us to "equip the saints for the work of the ministry." The word equip means skill development. In short, our role as pastors is to create a positive growth environment for our people to develop in the skills of ministering to their community. growth environment

Here is Maxwell's list with a few of my thoughts thrown in.

10 ways to recognize a healthy growth environment:

1. Others are ahead of you.

We as pastors need to continually push ourselves ahead of our people. This means we must be personally growing. We are to be the models and examples of ministry to our people. Do you do all of the ministry in your church, or do you develop your people to do the work of the ministry?

2. You are continually challenged.

There are many pastors who are afraid to challenge their people. They feel if they challenge them, they will lose them. What I have discovered is you will lose people either way, it's just the nature of ministry. However, you chose who you lose. If you challenge them, you will lose the uncommitted follower types. If you don't challenge them you will lose your committed leader types. When is the last time you challenged your church?

3. Your focus is forward.

Too many pastors lead by reaction rather than leading with vision. If you are constantly making decisions based on your past or current problems you are leading by reaction. If your church celebrates it's past more than it's future, you have a major problem. The best leaders focus ahead and lead with foresight. Where is your focus?

4. The atmosphere is affirming.

One of the greatest ways to repeat your vision is by celebrating your victories. What is celebrated will get repeated. It's easy to see what is going wrong, but what if you could catch your people doing something right?  When you do, celebrate it! It will get repeated.

5. You're often out of your comfort zone.

I go to the gym 3 times a week to be worked out by my trainer. The reason I still employ a trainer, after years of being at the gym, is because a trainer has the ability to push me further than I think I can go on my own. In the same way, I believe we as pastors are called by God to challenge our people to ministry they wouldn't necessary feel comfortable doing on their own.

6. You wake up excited.

How would you rate the expectation of the people in your church? Are they excited about what you're doing and for what is coming? Or, do they attend out of pure obligation? It's important to keep a pulse on the expectation level. If it drops, you may need to shake something up to keep their anticipation up.

7. Failure is not your enemy.

In the church world, we are guilty of thinking that failure is fatal. When we do, we stop moving forward. As my mentor, Dr. George Hill often says, "the greatest risk of all is a life of riskless living." In your church, are people willing to take risks?

8. Others are growing.

The Bible calls growth "fruit." In fact, it says that we should judge everything "by it's fruit." How is your fruit? You can judge your ministry right away by the fruit it is producing. Are people growing? If so, celebrate their growth! Use their examples in testimonies. Again, what you celebrate will be repeated.

9. People desire change.

To most churches, change is a four letter word. The last thing they want is change. Yet, John Maxwell says if you are in a growth environment, people will desire change. It is a good idea to get your people used to change. This takes creativity. Being creative means to be consistently inconsistent, predicably unpredicable, to be on the radical edge of change. When is the last time your church did something for the first time?

10. Growth is modeled and expected.

I am shocked how many pastors and churches are content with maintaining what they already have. Jesus gave us a huge warning about this mentality in the parable of the talents. He called the one who maintained "wicked and lazy", took what he had and gave it to one who doubled what he had, and then threw the maintainer into a place where there was "weeping and gnashing of teeth." Yikes! I don't want to be a maintainer!

Based on this list, how would you rate your church? Pastors, I would recommend asking your board, staff, and/or key volunteer leaders to rate each point on a scale of 1-10. How effective is your church at raising up leaders?

Redesigning Church - Part 4

“Jesus’ teaching consistently attracted the irreligious while offending the Bible-believing, religious people of his day. However, in the main, our churches today do not have this effect. The kind of outsiders Jesus attracted are not attracted to contemporary churches, even our most avant-garde ones. We tend to draw conservative, buttoned-down, moralistic people. The licentious and liberated or the broken and marginal avoid church. That can only mean one thing. If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishioners do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did.”~ Dr. Timothy Keller ~

Since it's inception, the church has struggled with the natural pull toward insiders. Acts 15 reveals this natural pull. Church history tells tales of this insider focus. Today, we struggle with the same natural pull and as a result we are less effective in reaching outsiders than we should be. So, how do we combat an insider focus? How can we continue to reach outsiders while at the same time minister effectively to those already inside our churches?

I believe one of the best ways to maintain a healthy tension between effectively reaching outsiders while ministering depth to insiders is by focusing on a balanced growth in these 9 areas.

  1. Grow Yourself - the leader must grow. John Maxwell says, "Everything rises and falls on leadership." It is true. When the pastor stops growing the church will stop growing. It is therefore imperative that the leader continually grow.
  2. Grow Your Leadership Team - the staff and chief volunteers must grow. It has been said that "One is too small a number to achieve greatness." If this is true, and I certainly believe it is, then it is vital our teams grow as well. This is only possible if there is an intentional leadership development. It doesn't just happen.
  3. Grow Your Systems - as the organization grows the systems must grow with it. Systems don't grow churches, leaders do. But poor systems can certainly hinder churches from growing.
  4. Grow Your Numbers - numerical growth should be expected. While many place their sole focus on numerical growth, it is only one of the 9 areas that must grow. At the opposite end of the spectrum their are some who minimize the importance of numbers, yet Jesus and the disciples seemed to think it was important. They counted everything. There were 12 disciples, 70 in the inner circle, 500 at his ascension, 120 in the upper room, 3000 were saved in Peter's first sermon, and of course the feeding of the 5000. You get the point.
  5. Grow Your Income - the finances of the church must grow. Having an abundance of finances certainly doesn't guarantee your church will grow, however, a lack of finances will hinder your church's ability to grow.
  6. Grow the Expectations of your people - do your people come expectant to your services? Have you ever noticed that their seems to be a deeper anointing on the worship at a conference than what you experience during a regular Sunday morning service? I certainly have witnessed that. I believe it has little to do with the quality of the musicians and everything to do with the expectancy of the congregation. When people come expectant to receive, it draws on the anointing of God. The greater the expectancy, the greater the anointing.
  7. Grow Your Facilities - your facilities must expand with the growth of your church. Church growth experts say that when your facility has reached 80% capacity, your church will stop growing. This is true of the sanctuary size, the space in your children's ministry, and the parking lot. Having a large facility doesn't guarantee numerical growth, but having one that is too small will stop your church from growing.
  8. Grow in the Word - your church must grow in understanding and in the practice of the Bible. The Word of God is a "lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path." Without an ever increasing knowledge and passion of the Word, a church will lose it's focus and direction.
  9. Grow in the Spirit - your church must grow in the experience and power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus told his disciples to wait to start the church on this earth until they had received the Holy Spirit. What makes us think we should do church today without His presence and power to guide us?

Over the next number of blogs, I will dig deeper into each of these 9 areas of growth and will show how increasing in each of these areas will help churches manage the tension between reaching outsiders and caring for insiders.

Question: Which of these nine areas is your church's weakest link?

Redesigning Church - Part 3

Acts 4 shows us clearly that the early church was outsider focused! However, like most churches, it didn't stay that way for long. As I have said, the natural gravitational pull for every local church is to gradually become insider focused. And the early church was no exception. In Acts 15 we read of the first major church conflict. It was so serious that they called all of the church leaders to Jerusalem for a special meeting to discuss the issue. Look what the issue was about.  "Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” Acts 15:1 (NASB)

Can you imagine the reaction from the new believers? "Uh, Paul didn’t tell us about that part!" I can picture the complaints from the leaders, "For some reason, our new believers class is all women!"

But seriously, this was their issue. The tension was between grace and the law. And before we get too critical about how absurd this thinking was, we must be careful because this kind of tension can easily creep into our churches today, too. No, we're not arguing over circumcision, but have you ever heard these comments in church? "Look at what he’s wearing" or "what’s that thing on his face?" or "look at that ink on her body" or "they don't look like a Christian to me."

If we’re not careful, we all settle into our comfortable version of Christianity and what a person in our church should look like and act like and anything outside of our comfort zone is criticized. The natural pull on a local church is to keep it's insiders happy. It tends to focus more on those it's trying to keep than on those it's trying to reach. This was the problem Paul, Peter, James and the rest of the early church leaders had to solve.

After much discussion, James the brother of Jesus, stands up and makes a declaration. He said, “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.” Acts 15:19 (NIV)

I love this statement! We should not make it difficult for people to turn to God. This has become one of my life verses. If there is anything that makes it difficult for people to have a relationship with God, we should remove it! Often times, we are the ones standing in the way of an individual's relationship with God. Our natural desire as pastors to keep the insiders happy and comfortable can result in methods that repel the very ones we are placed on this planet to reach.

The story concludes with the church leadership sending a letter to all of the Gentile churches. I can imagine the tension in the room as the church gathered to read the declaration. The men gathered around, anxiously wondering "surgery or no surgery." Here's what the letter said.

"Greetings. We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul—men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell." Acts 15:24-29 (NIV)

That’s it?!

The letter basically covered 2 things:

  1. try not to offend the Jews, and
  2. abstain from sexual immorality!

In light of everything that was on the table, that's not too bad. And then comes the biggest understatement in the whole Bible. Verse 31 says, "The people read it and were glad for its encouraging message." I would guess so!

The church avoided the first split and effectively managed the tensions between moral imperatives and grace, methods of outreach and discipleship, the requirements of the insiders and souls of the outsiders! Every church throughout the generations has struggled with these same issues. To resist the natural gravitational pull towards an insider focus we must remember that the Message is sacred, the methods are not!

Question: Is your focus more on who you are trying to keep or on who you are trying to reach?

Redesigning Church - Part 2

“Outsiders think Christianity no longer represents what Jesus had in mind, that Christianity in our society is not what it was meant to be.”~ David Kinnaman ~

The early church began with a strong outsider focus. In fact, right after the 120 were filled with the Holy Spirit in the upper room in Acts 2:1, they immediately hit the streets boldly preaching the good news of Jesus Christ. Peter was their first leader and primary spokesperson. This once insecure man who cowardly denied even knowing Jesus only weeks before to a questioning servant girl, stood up boldly on the day of Pentecost and preached with clarity and passion and three thousand became believers on the spot.

The church in Jerusalem grew quickly. Experts project that within the first year or two, the church numbered around 14,000. They had momentum and power. But Peter had a habit of repeatedly reminding the Jews in his sermons that they were responsible for killing the promised Messiah, Jesus. This habit, as you can imagine, greatly angered the non-believing Jews and they had Peter and John arrested in Acts 3.

Now, imagine the scenario with me for a minute. Peter and John were the two senior leaders of this now thriving, fast growing church. They were the pastors, mentors, and spiritual authorities of this 14,000 member city congregation. To have both of them arrested at the same time was extremely devastating, I imagine especially to the new believers. Even the original 120 had to be terrified as it was only months after they had personally witnessed Jesus' arrest and eventual crucifixion.

So, how did they respond? In the same way you and I would respond. They called a corporate prayer meeting to intercede on behalf of Peter and John. Yet, what they prayed was so drastically different than what I imagine I would have prayed in the same scenario that it bears taking notice. Had I experienced similar circumstances, I would pray for Peter and John's safe return. I'd pray for protection over our church and especially over my own family. I'd beg God to save us from persecution. But that's not what they prayed! Look what they prayed.

"Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness." Acts 4:29 (NIV)

They prayed for more boldness! I don't think boldness was their greatest need. Boldness was why Peter and John had been arrested in the first place.

This verse so convicts me because as I reflect on the majority of my prayers I have to admit I pray mostly for myself, my family, and the people within my church. My prayers are insider focused and not outsider focused like those of the early church. If I was to be completely honest, my main motive for praying is to protect what I already have. Yet the early church didn't pray a protection type prayer. They're focus was on the outsiders, on those they had yet to reach. They weren't driven by fear of losing what they had gained, they were driven by the mandate Jesus had given them to preach the good news to in Jerusalem first, then to Judea, and then to the rest of the earth. This stern focus, even in the midst of a trial, is the reason the church made it out of the first century and why Christianity is still alive and thriving on our planet today.

What if the church today were to focus more on those we are trying to reach than on those we are trying to keep?

Question: When was the last time you asked God for boldness to speak His Word to an unchurched friend?